24, 2001: On
are what you wear
senior ponders the existential questions raised by her wardrobe
By Emily Johnson '01
Another J. Crew package
arrives for me. I know the mail guy has labeled me as a preppie
clothes horse. I cant meet his eye. I mumble thanks, snatch
my box, and dash off with my matte tricot T-shirt bra.
Oh dear, this is getting
serious. I know two clerks at the Nassau Street Ann Taylor store
by first name. I have a Banana Republic credit card. I know this
seasons colors. I buy only matching underwear.
Come back to the
dark side! says my jeans-loving roommate from last year.
I have my excuses. My current roommates dress up daily, I plead.
They wear skirts. Make-up. Hose. Boots. I dont want to be
known as the sloppy one.
I call my new wardrobe
the consulting wardrobe. I kind of like it. My practical mom always
made me buy washable fabrics, but Ive discovered that silk
is pretty nice. And cashmere -- oooooooh. Even my mom admires
my J. Crew knee-length, cashmere/wool blend coat. With Thinsulate.
I have reservations,
though. In the old days of cotton, thrift stores, and comfortable
shoes, I wore my all-purpose business casual outfit (unwrinkle-able
pants and starched pink shirt, both from Target) to a Mercer Consulting
presentation at the Nassau Inn. The place was crawling with suited
recruiters. They intimidated me so much that I left before one of
them could speak to me, which is probably not the way to get a job.
But as I dress more and
more like a McKinsey employee, I wonder if these new clothes will
take me back to the Nassau Inn, to Prospect House, to interviews
in fashionable New York. Will I put my $600 wardrobe to good use?
Will I have the money to add to my growing collection of must-have
tartan skirts? Is my newfound and expensive love enough to push
me toward a high-paying job? I had envisioned spending next year
in Guatemala helping the Franciscans. Or at a Philadelphia soup
kitchen. Or even at a small, underfunded, understaffed magazine.
Well, says my mom, We can always store your clothes
for you. Thanks.
To clarify how confusing
all this is to me, I should tell you I spent childhood with my socks
pulled up to mid-calf, despite my sisters desperate attempts
to clue me in. My sister is now an ecology Ph.D. student whose office
clothes are jeans and a T-shirt, usually with lizards on it. I used
to work at a physics lab where one officemate wore clingy nylon
shorts and a T-shirt from Hawaii -- every day. And -- heres
the kicker -- my parents are math professors.
So its funny that
clothes are deciding my fate. Do I want to wear red silk or faded
blue cotton? Do I want to look crisp and sleek or comfortable and
approachable? Mercer Consulting or Kibbutz? Edelman Public Relations
or Teach for America? Pricewater-houseCoopers or Project 55? Business;
business casual; flowing pants; dress-down day; shorts day; power
suits; silk; cashmere; reds, blacks; classy; practical; washable;
replaceable; comfortable; simple; sweatsocks; Birkenstocks.
My clothes have forced me to a life-changing decision.
I now realize that when
you choose a job, you choose a lifestyle. Not only will your wardrobe
matter, but also your daily schedule, your friends, where you live,
and what you eat. For Princeton students, that lifestyle is a harsh
and fairly self-imposed dichotomy: You sell out or save
the world. For many seniors, there is no middle ground, and
the choice is a very conscious, conscientious decision.
This leaves me even more
confused. What kind of job will I choose? What kind of life? I like
being outside. I like knee-high boots. I like sneakers. I like manicures.
I feel that every charge on my Banana Republic card draws me closer
to the business world. Every well-loved T-shirt in my top dresser
drawer whispers, You and me. Comfort. Getting your hands dirty.
Sigh. Oh well. I didnt
even get an interview at Boston Consulting Group or Leo Burnett,
the first places I applied to, so maybe I wont have to make
this decision at all. Maybe Ill end up in grad school or as
a high school teacher or with the Franciscans after all.
But then I wouldnt get to wear my new Ann Taylor suit.
is February 7th. Banana Republic gift certificates are appreciated.